Ada Limón’s “The Burying Beetle” -

3-3 minutes

From The New Yorker’s archive: an exquisite meditation on the intimate cycles of mortality and renewal.

A person holding dirt in their hands.

Photograph by Max Belchenko / Shutterstock

The Mexican American poet Ada Limón composes arresting, fearless verses about the convergence of melancholy and the natural world. Since 2009, Limón has contributed seven pieces to The New Yorker. The author of six books, including “Bright Dead Things” and “The Carrying,” which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry in 2018, Limón writes about our uncertainties and fierce vulnerabilities with unflinching emotional acuity. Her most recent collection of poems, “The Hurting Kind,” was released last month. In 2017, The New Yorker published “The Burying Beetle,” Limón’s exquisite meditation on the intimate cycles of mortality and renewal. In it, the narrator tends her garden on a hot summer day. Various flora and fauna stretch out and soothe her as she considers her partner’s absence and the persistent afflictions of the world: 

I don’t feel I deserve this time,

or the small plot of earth I get to mold into 

someplace livable. I lost God awhile ago. 

And I don’t want to pray, but I can picture 

the plants deepening right now into the soil, 

wanting to live . . .

Limón’s interpretations of grief are vivid and tactile. We move as the narrator moves, as every weed is pulled and each seed is planted. Her poem is both a keening wail and a lucid benediction. Is there any greater gift, Limón seems to ask, than an ability to cultivate our own quotidian worlds, our own delicate plots of earth—reminding ourselves that we, too, will continue to grow as long as we draw breath? The planet may be in chaos around us, yet there is beauty and solace to be found even among the weeds. With each modest breath, there remains within us a sharp desire to live, just like plants spreading their tendrils in supplication so that they, too, might bask under the prismatic intensity of the sun. 

—Erin Overbey, archive editor